Watching “Roma”- Nostalgia and the Nanny from Shillong

Watching “Roma”- Nostalgia and the Nanny from Shillong

Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma has bagged the best picture nominations for the 2019 Oscars…is already being termed as the “most acclaimed work of art in history” by some aficionados…and its a Netflix first best picture nominee. Raving reviews by all and sundry…a touch of autobiographical nuances…high on emotions…the movie has it all…some have even sworn to have watched it a second time because the tears that flowed on the first show made them miss a lot of scenes and dialogues…!

Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma
Source: cartelesmix

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On the personal front, having meticulously read the reviews of Roma in all the dailies of prominence, the instant connect to my mind or rather my heart was “Cleo Gutiérrez” who enacts the role of the nanny in the film. Like all live in maids…Cleo – the Nanny takes on jobs which are defined beyond their normal scope of work…at times taking on the roles which ought to be that of the parents. This is the central point of my connection…the nannies from a nondescript town of Shillong, at the other end of the world, somewhere in the hills of northeastern India…the ubiquitous “Kong” ( Kong ; sister in the Khasi language) – the best nannies of all times. Spick and span in their appearance and dressed in the Khasi Jensem (the traditional outfit of the Khasis) these are “baby specialists!” Name any mother in the northeast or pan India, and they are sure to swear by these precious Kongs…a total must have for a family with babies, the best nannies this side of the world. From folding nappies to preparing the right dosage for the baby food…best massages for the baby and the mother…to handling the crankiest of all babies, this one is a super nanny at all times…I had one each for all my three kids and each one of them has left an indelible mark in our family memories…the ones which probably led to Cuarón’s creation of Roma with his Cleo as a central character. Being a boss around my home was probably the right created by my existence as the wife and mother but it was these nannies…the Kongs…the Cleos of my world who drove the entire household…and it was not only about the clean nappies or the spruced up cushions on the sofa or the warm meals…their presence was much more and above…perhaps of a surrogate mother and wife…an invisible force who was always there but maybe not acknowledged for our convenience and the saving grace of the mistress of the house. This non acknowledgement, however could not be compared to mistreatment…they were a part of the family but the goodwill ended just there, with Christmas presents for their children and family…holiday gifts…a handsome bonus at the end of the year…The rest remained obliterated…the problems that plagued our family was all hers…but what about her problems back home..? Did we share even a thought about her own life..the one she left behind for the sake of economics and survival…did we even care…? 

Nanny from Shillong

Maybe it was a reflection of the unwritten norm that governed the life of the live in maids…an integral part of the family…only on the basis of the needs of the family…involving emotions as well…the Kong who ruled our physical household easily fitted into the role of the children’s mother when she sat up all night while the child tossed and turned in the delusions of fever…the most important meal of the school going child – the lunch box…was always prepared with the zeal and love of a mother…still   we remembered her only for her physical presence…never once did we ask, “do you miss the hills of Shillong…?”

Nanny from Shillong
Source: Vulture

Cuarón’s Roma shows Cleo the live in maid of a household totally not capable of doing anything without her…our household strongly resembles the same…nothing would work without our Kong…and we let it flow…simply flow…caring nothing about her personal life…the feelings that she never shared with us while we let ours flow directly into her realm…The one and only instance the real mother in our Kong surfaced was when her four year old visited our home with her granny…after spending a night with her mother, the next day the young girl cried her heart out asking her granny to take her back to Shillong while lamenting amidst her sobs..” my mummy has become someone else’s mother…”

The New York Times has titled the review of the movie as, “ Alfonso
Cuarón’s masterpiece of Memory” and aptly so…Roma and Cleo truly conjured the nostalgia and the memories of the nannies back home…

P.S : Roma is a love letter to Alfonso Cuarón ’s house maid Libo, and he says that she has seen the movie two or three times and has cried a lot.